Cold vs Hot Water: Which is Better for Foot Odor?

While the dreaded foot odor can strike at any time, most people experience it when wearing closed-toe shoes in the warm summer months. The heat and sweat generated inside shoes creates the perfect environment for odor-causing bacteria to thrive.

When it’s time to rid your feet of that noxious smell, should you soak them in cold water or hot water? Let’s take a look at the temperature science behind foot odor remedies.

Does Water Temperature Make a Difference?

When it comes time to treat foot odor, most people head for the sink or bathtub and soak their feet in water. But does the temperature of the water matter when it comes to killing odor-causing bacteria?

According to scientific research, cold water is actually better at tackling foot bacteria and odors. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Cold water constricts pores and reduces sweating. Warm water has the opposite effect – it opens pores up and makes you sweat more. The cooler the water, the less active the sweat glands become. Less sweat means less food for the bacteria, slowing their growth.
  2. Colder temperatures inhibit bacterial growth. Just as we humans prefer warmer environs, bacteria thrive more in warmer conditions. Research shows that lower temperatures dramatically slow the reproduction and metabolism of bacteria on the skin.
  3. Cold water shrinks bacterial cells. Thermodynamic studies found that cold temperatures cause bacterial cell membranes to contract and shrink. This impacts their structure and integrity, making it harder for them to function properly. Damaged cell membranes mean less efficient waste breakdown, leading to lower odor production.
  4. Colder water constricts blood vessels. Immersing feet in cold water causes underlying blood vessels to constrict. This reduces blood flow to the area, allowing anti-bacterial agents applied afterwards to remain on the skin longer before being washed away.

Soaking feet in cold water provides an added bonus after exercise. Cold water immersion constricts blood vessels, reducing inflammation and slowing metabolite removal. This helps ease post-workout muscle soreness and fatigue. But for odor-fighting purposes, colder is better when it comes to foot soaks.

Tips for Using Cold Water for Foot Odor

If you want to leverage the bacteria-busting power of cold water against foot odor, here are some useful tips:

  • Soak feet for 20-30 minutes in the coldest water that’s comfortable. This gives the cold adequate time to work its magic. Add ice to maximize cooling effects.
  • Use cold water after exercise to combat odors and inflammation. It will refresh sore, sweaty feet.
  • Combine with anti-bacterial skin products for added benefits. The cold water helps them absorb deeper and stay on skin longer.
  • Exfoliate dead skin cells first to remove bacteria food sources. Try a pedicure pumice stone.
  • Rinse feet with cold water after showering. This removes any lingering bacteria that survive soap and hot water.
  • Wash socks in cold water to inhibit re-growth of bacteria when dirty socks are left in the laundry hamper.
  • Keep extra shoes and socks on hand. Rotating footwear allows them to fully dry out between uses, depriving bacteria of the dampness they need.

While subjecting your feet to ice baths may seem less than inviting, the science shows that it’s worth the temporary discomfort. Harnessing the power of cold water can help you win the battle against stubborn foot odors. Just be sure to follow up with moisture-wicking socks and breathable shoes. Attacking foot bacteria from all angles will keep your feet – and your shoes – smelling fresh all day long.